For the University of Wisconsin, the Camp Randall Hockey Classic was exactly that—a classic. With two goals in the final four minutes, the Badgers sent the crowd of 55,031 fans home in high spirits with a 3-2 win over Michigan. More importantly, Wisconsin was able to keep pace with second-ranked Denver in the national rankings.
The Badgers, who are ranked third in the national polls at 16-7-4, are also right behind Denver in the WCHA standings. The out of conference matchup with Michigan will not help UW climb in the WCHA, but if Wisconsin ends the year ahead of Denver, it could have huge postseason implications.
Because the NCAA wants to ensure high attendance for its postseason tournament, the top seed in each region will play in a designated local arena. For WCHA foes UW and Denver, the top seed will Minneapolis, a relatively short drive for Badger fans. According to Wisconsin captain Ben Street, the team also realizes the importance of ending the season strong.
"This is one of those games that'll really help us further on in the year. It's a huge game, it's a huge stage," Street said. "Hopefully it is a springboard—it's a huge lesson for all of us because winning a game like that is what you take in the end and for us to get that done and know how that feels is big."
Two years ago, when Madison was the host city for the WCHA teams, the Badgers took advantage of the home crowd by pulling off an upset against Denver and coming within minutes of a Frozen Four appearance.
The game was not actually the first outdoor hockey game for Wisconsin. In the 2005-2006 season, the Badgers beat Ohio State at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. In addition to Wisconsin Head Coach Mike Eaves, senior Ben Street also participated in the game. Thanks to a medical redshirt last season, Street is now the only carryover from that squad who followed the momentum from the outdoor game to a National Championship.
With four series left in the regular season, the confidence gained from the late comeback Saturday night may provide a similar spark to end the year. Even if the Badgers don't grab the top WCHA spot from Denver, they will at least enjoy the win at Camp Randall.
"I don't think people sat down behind me until the third period," Eaves said. "[The] biggest outdoor party... in Wisconsin history probably took place tonight in Camp Randall watching a hockey game. That's pretty cool."